And We Wonder Why We Have A Childhood Obesity Problem?

In case you wondered, paternalism and fears of liability for potential injury will trump generalized health concerns about obesity and lack of exercise every time.

Want proof?  Consider Weber Middle School in Port Washington, New York.  School officials are concerned that kids are getting injured during recess.  So, they’ve taken a proportionate response — they’ve banned footballs, baseballs, lacrosse balls, and any other object that might conceivably hurt someone.  Oh, and tag also is banned, as are cartwheels.  Presumably, even more violent games, like “red rover” and “smear the queer,” were banned long ago.

How ridiculous we’ve become!  Generations of kids somehow managed to survive throwing a football or playing catch during recess.  It was a good way to get some fresh air, blow off steam, and have some fun with your school buddies.  Kids got some exercise in the process and came back into their classrooms with a little less energy and a little more ability to focus on algebra and chemistry and civics.

The school says it just wants its students to be “protected” in the wake of a rash of injuries.  I’m sure that’s it — and there’s probably a desire to avoid potential lawsuits brought by angry parents, too.  When I was a kid, no parent would even dream of suing their public school district, and no lawyers would consider taking such cases, either.  Falls from the jungle gym and the occasional broken collar bone were just accepted parts of growing up.  No longer!

We wonder why we have obese kids?  We are so protective of youngsters that we take all of the fun out of play — and in the process make kids less and less likely to get any meaningful exercise.  If you can’t play physical games, why not just retreat into your video game world where your digital counterpart can at least have some fun?  Our paternalistic society is doing a tremendous disservice to our kids.

Tightrope Walkers And Tourist Dollars

The New York legislature has voted to approve a request by Nik Wallenda, a member of the well-known family of daredevils, to tightrope walk across the Niagara Falls.  Wallenda would take a 2,200-foot walk above the falls, which are 180 feet high.  New York’s Governor still needs to approve the request, as do Canadian authorities.

Niagara Falls, of course, has a long and colorful history of foolish stunts and daredevil activities.  Everyone knows of publicity-seekers who sought to go over the thundering waterfalls in a barrel.  Some lived, many died.  For many years, such stunts have been outlawed.

In view of that prohibition, why would New York legislators vote to allow a tightrope walk over the gorge?  The answer seems to be that such a stunt is likely to increase tourist interest in the Falls — even if by sick individuals hoping to witness a tragic accident — and thereby increase tourism-related revenues for the state.  In short, the state is willing to sanction ultra-dangerous activities if they may have a positive economic impact on the state’s coffers.

Does anyone else think it is absurd that a paternalistic nanny state that will fine you for driving a car without wearing a seatbelt is happy to approve hazardous daredevil activities, so long as they may produce revenue and enhance tourism?

Walking To School

According to this story, a California school district currently bars students from walking or riding their bikes to elementary school or middle school. Although the news article is not entirely clear, it appears that the school district decided that the road that kids would take to get to school was just too busy and, therefore, dangerous. This kind of news story is pathetic — although not particularly surprising in this era of paternalistic government — because it shows how weak, lazy, and risk-averse America has become. And we wonder why we have a problem with child obesity!

Rankin Elementary School in Akron, Ohio

Rankin Elementary School in Akron, Ohio

In the early 1960s, when I first started going to school in Akron, Ohio, UJ and I walked to school every day, from our house on Orlando Avenue to Rankin Elementary School on Storer Avenue. We would turn right out the front door and walk to the end of the block, turn left on Delia Avenue, then walk 11 blocks down Delia Avenue to Storer, where we turned right for a few blocks and then crossed the street to Rankin. We walked that route rain or shine, snow or sleet. On some days Mom would tell us that we were to go to Gramma and Grampa Neal’s house for lunch and we would walk the six blocks from Rankin to their home on Dorchester Road over the lunch period; on other days we were to go to Gramma and Grampa Webner’s home and we would walk the six blocks from Rankin to their house on Emma Avenue.

Perhaps Mom worried about us as we took our walks, but I doubt it. Walking to school was just an accepted part of the day; it was something that everybody did. For a kid, too, it was a time of freedom and high adventure to be savored. You were on your own.

The spiny outer covering of buckeyes

The spiny outer covering of buckeyes

You hustled on the way to school to make sure you weren’t tardy, but the walk home was a bit more leisurely. There would be interesting places to examine, and things to do. On the route back home from Rankin, for example, there was a triangular “island” in the middle of an intersection, and at each corner of the island there was a large buckeye tree. UJ and I called it “Buckeye Island,” and on the way home on a crisp fall day we might stop to see if buckeyes had fallen. We would try to pry open their tough and spiny outer covering and see if we could find a nut or two worth polishing to a brilliant dark shine.

A polished buckeye

A polished buckeye

Sometimes, as we gathered our nuts, older bullies would come up and take the best nuts from us, and we would have to get out of there. But, really, what did we care? They were just nuts. The important thing was that we were on our own, making our own decisions, and the prospect of bullies just heightened the sense of excitement and fun.

Why would any school district want to deprive kids of that kind of experience? Why would any parents be so protective that they wouldn’t want their children to feel that sense of freedom? Why wouldn’t any community demand an environment where their children could walk to school without fear of anything more threatening than a fifth-grade bully?